Neil Hewitt is a residential surveyor specialising in older period properties, in particular local Suffolk timber frame and thatched houses. Neil has come into surveying by what may be seen as a non-conventional route, but he sees this experience of life as a huge benefit when dealing with the public.
Being a Self-Employed Residential Surveyor
Neil shares his thoughts about the transition from employment to becoming a self-employed residential surveyor.
“Yes, it’s very scary,” Neil says, “going from being employed and having a huge comfort blanket around you. You’re going out totally on your own being self-employed and reliant upon yourself only. I think a lot of people out there are more than capable of going out working on their own. It’s just having the confidence to do that, and I think above all coming up with a good sustainable business model.”
“That’s where many people struggle,” he continues. “We can see that when they are thinking about how much they charge, how much to take on, even simple things such as how to get the referrals and where to source the work from.”
Setting Boundaries of Your Surveying Work
Next, Neil talks about defining the scope of work and setting clear expectations with a client at the start. He says that he sets the boundaries for reasoned judgment that he might get sued during retirement, rather than lack of confidence in his level of expertise.
“That’s probably the one area that I could strike on,” Neil says, “about not setting out very clearly to clients what the scope of my work is. I often did work in the past that I should never have done. Now I’ve got the confidence to set those very, very clear boundaries. I thought at the end of the day, yes, I’ll lose a client, I’ll lose a fee, but I’ve got to think about the greater risk involved.”
“I have no qualms about expertise, I am fine with that,” Neil says. “As we’ve seen, whatever you write down, if it ends up in front of a judge, it can be interpreted almost any way. It’s totally unpredictable. So in the recent case where I declined to take on a job, it was a reasoned judgment, it certainly wasn’t fear. I still go out and do my surveying exactly as I do normally.”
Choosing the Right Client
Neil discusses that the reassurance surveyors offer to clients should not be taken as a guarantee. For surveyors, it comes down to getting the right clients that can appreciate the work you do.
“Normally, I get an email inquiry or telephone inquiry,” Neil shares. “I don’t make any decisions. I’ll then go away, research the property using whatever means I can to do that. There’s nothing worse than quoting a fee on the telephone and then finding out it’s far, far more complex. Come back for the sensible free and make sure that you can do it. Check your timetable to slot it in and also that you’re happy with the client as well.”
“Unfortunately, we engineer our prices or our timetable based on quite simply whether we want to work with that client or not,” he says. “There are nice people who are an absolute pleasure to work with and others who can be an absolute nightmare. I think, in a sense, we become a bit like psychologists assessing people’s behaviour.”
“In a sense, I’m almost interviewing the potential clients,” Neil continues. “I’ve got a great belief that only the right people should take over certain types of property. Those people are prepared to be custodians of that property for a period of time. And don’t simply look at it as a rose-coloured cottage countryside. If they want to take it on as a project for life, then I’m more than happy to continue that relationship. I’ll go and do the survey and explain the limitations. And hopefully, they’ll be very satisfied with that.”
Advice to Young Surveyors
Neil offers helpful advice for young surveyors who are still figuring out their specific scope of work in surveying.
“Be totally open and honest about it,” Neil says, “the skills that you’ve got, be willing to set your boundaries. Discuss any contentious situation whatsoever with a colleague. Make sure that you’re not straying outside your comfort zone. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you’re just going out into the world of work, it’s probably better to be employed for a period of time before thinking about self-employment. Just get that genuine experience of life and how to work with other people.”
“Don’t be too obsessed about formal qualifications,” he continues. “At the moment, get a bit of experience, and see which way you want to go. I think you can get formal qualifications a little bit later in life anyway. Then you can decide which way you want to go, whether you’re going to concentrate purely on condition surveying, or maybe you want to work more in the general world of surveying, such as becoming a fully chartered surveyor.”
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